Mar 28, 2015

A Peek Inside Nate's Head

Nate is probably my most unique child. He is certainly the child that makes me laugh the most. He always has something to say and his comments and observations are generally unexpected. Here's a couple of conversations I have had with him recently.

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Me: I wonder where the custom of saluting even came from?
Nate: Probably from the Aztecs. They invented everything.
Me: I have not heard this about the Aztecs before. So much of my education was a lie.


Nate: I'm going to blow up a bridge at my wedding.
Me: You are going to blow up a BRIDGE!?!?
Nate: Yes.
Me: At your wedding?
Nate: Yes.
Me: You are going to BLOW UP a bridge?!?!
Nate: Yes.
Me: At your WEDDING?
Nate: Yes.
Me: You better marry a very unique girl.


Nate: You learn everything from a book. Except for Hard Life Lessons. Those, you learn from your parents.
Kaytie: And physical pain. I've learned a lot of Hard Life Lessons from physical pain.

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Mar 20, 2015

Top O' The Mornin'!

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St. Patrick's Day, for us, is always a day of fun and festivities. But we rarely do the same thing twice. This year, I fully intended to make the kids green waffles since we have a brand new waffle iron. However, I woke up on the 17th and realized that we were out of flour. Oh well, I was up early and the kids were all still sleeping. My husband had not yet left for work so I had plenty of time to run to the store and buy some flour. Oh, and some potatoes for a good Irish-style supper. And some cheese. And something fun for the kids for lunch. And might as well grab a gallon of milk. And... when I returned home from the store with two bags full of groceries (including four cans of silly string) I was surprised and dismayed to discover that I forgotten to buy flour!!!

So the kids had cold cereal with green milk for breakfast.

After that, the day got a little better. We all wore green. We did some school. And a leprechaun or two even showed up. 

The kids set milk out for the other leprechauns... the smaller ones. 

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And after awhile discovered that the wee man had drank it and gratefully left them each a couple of chocolate kisses covered in green foil. You just can't out give a leprechaun!

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I found this fun scavenger hunt online and kind of morphed it to fit our needs. I hand wrote the clues and just printed the games because that was a LOT of green ink! It wasn't just a treasure hunt, because the clues led them, not to another clue, but to a game or a challenge. When they finished playing the game I would hand them their next clue. 

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They tried to roll a seven...

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Discovered their leprechaun name...

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Played "Don't Eat Pete!"

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Unscrambled some St. Patrick's Day words...

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Hunted for "gold coins" (pennies)...

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And eventually discovered the treasure of silly string!!!

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Then they had a silly string war...

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 Afterwards we danced to some Irish jigs, watched the Veggietales St. Patrick's Day video, discovered even the Dreaded Jungle Basset has some Irish in her...

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ate roasted potatoes and cheese and bacon and chicken for supper and just generally had a grand old time!

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Mar 19, 2015

Schoolhouse Review Crew: GPA Learn

If you know us at all, you know that math is not our thing around here. Some of us are good at it but none of us like it. So it was with a little bit of trepidation that we agreed to review GPALOVEMATH from GPA LEARN .

Critical Thinking Company Review

Now, here is your warning, there is a lot to this program, so I am going to try to break it down into sections in attempt to keep it simple.


The setup was easy. I received an email with a link and after entering our information, I had an account for each child and a parent account for me. I liked the fact that I got to choose their usernames and passwords. For me, a big part of the draw of schoolwork on the computer is that it is independent. And if I have to put in their username and/or password every time they use the program it becomes an irritant. So getting to choose something that I know they will remember is a little plus, but a definite one! I also chose which grade level to put the kids. One brand new perk offered to you is that after you sign your child up, you can move him to another grade (and back) quickly and easily. All six levels are available to every child all the time!

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 So each child has their own account in their own grade level. (One of the drawbacks of this program is that it only goes up to fifth grade.) And the first thing they do when they start the program is to met the animated character who will guide them through their learning. They are shown in a fun, animated lesson just how the program works and what is expected of them. Each level has its own "backstory" and fun little challenges to engage the kids in wanting to solve the problems. My kids found this a little "gimmicky", especially the weird computer generated voices, but laughed and enjoyed it anyway. They seemed to especially enjoy sharing their level's "quirks" with each other. You can watch a quick presentation of each level here.

Then, once they have been shown how the program works, they get to start the actual lessons. At the beginning, the lessons are locked. But as your child completes lessons, following lessons will unlock for them. Each lesson has three parts:

Instruction, where the concept is taught by the animated guide. In this section, the child is expected to listen and to follow along mentally with the problems. They are encouraged to solve the problems in their head and see if they can get the answer correct. The answer is given to them at the end of the problem so they know if they got it right or not. Nothing is written down nor scored in this section. It is simply to teach and give the student practice at working with the concept.

Practice, where the student is presented with problems relating to that concept. These problems are not graded either. They are to give the child lots of exposure to the concept and experience working through the problems. If the child gets a wrong answer they are asked to try again. If they get it right, they are given a new problem to solve.

Quiz, where the answers are recorded and graded. Depending on how many correct answers the student gets they are awarded a level of "master" or "apprentice" or nothing because they need to redo the lesson. If they do not "pass" the lesson, new lessons are not unlocked, but they can retake the lesson and try the quiz again. Or they can go back and work on any of their previous lessons. Even if you pass the lesson but don't do as well as you like you can take it again and try to improve your scores. You also get a certain amount of points for correct answers on quizzes. We will talk in a minute about what can be done with those points.

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 The child is in control of the lesson progress at all times. The lessons are broken up into screens and the student can move forward or back just by clicking the arrows. The student can "skip" quickly through the screens if he so chooses although I discourage my kids from doing this simply because I want them to focus and pay attention to all the information they are being given. It can come in handy, though, when the lesson is basically a "review" for your student and they just need the highlights to move on and take the Quiz. Here's a quick screenshot to show you what I mean:

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 They can also jump around from Instruction to Practice to Quiz at will, but if they don't complete a section, their progress is not saved and they will have to start over when they return to that part.

The lessons themselves are divided into three different colored pathways. Green is for Operations and Algebraic Thinking. Purple is for Number and Operations in Base Ten. Blue is for Measurement, Data and Geometry. The pathways unlock sequentially but you don't have to finish one color before another opens up. All of my kids currently have an unlocked lesson in each color. This gives them a little bit of choice without letting them attempt lessons they don't have the prerequisites for.


So all of this is accessed through the student's dashboard. Here is a screenshot of Kaytie's dashboard. This is just an overview of her account and, to be honest, we don't spend a lot of time here.

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We spend more time on this screen, the Learn tab:

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She can see at a glance which lessons she has available to her, and opening those up shows her what she will learn in each lesson. The big green button shows the points she has already earned for that lesson. We'll talk about the points in a minute...

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This screen shows her Engage tab:

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With permission from the parent account, the kids can friend other kids if they know their friend code. They can then message each other. They can also message back and forth with me. As you can tell, these messages don't have much to do with learning math, but it was kinda fun nonetheless.

And here is the Motivate tab...

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The long awaited part about the points... As the kids earn points you can choose to give them physical rewards. (or not, if you don't want to) I love that the parent has total control over this! They earn a reward about every eight lessons and I got to pick and choose what I wanted them to win. There is a nice long list of suggestions or you can add your own. You can have just one or you can have... well, a LOT. I currently have over 20 in our line up. You can have the rewards repeat as many times as you like and you can arrange and rearrange the order that they are earned. It is 100% customizable.


This was my favorite part of the program. I got a dashboard just like the kids' except I was able to access each of the kids' accounts from mine with just a click. I could see all their progress, inspect all their scores, and even preview unlocked lessons. From my dashboard I can see all of their messages to each other, message them, control and approve their earned rewards, and move them to a different grade if so desired. I can even manually unlock lessons if I think they need to move forward. But the best part is that I get emails. I get an email when the kids finish a lesson

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And I get a weekly update every weekend. And these updates give me information that I understand and that means something to me. 

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So it's pretty easy for me to keep up with what is going on without having to hover over them as they work.


This was easy. I told the kids they had to do a lesson every day. And we just added it to their list of independent work. They did the work and I kept up with what was going on through my dashboard and the emails and by listening to them talk about it both to me and to each other. It worked well. Except for them being disgruntled that I would only allow them to do one lesson a day. What can I say? We only have one computer and five of us to use it so they will just have to make sacrifices and cut back on their math fun.


I loved this. I have never used a computer program before that I had so much control over. I have also never used a computer program that I had to put so little work into. I loved that I could set it up just like I wanted it, the kids could do all the work, and I could easily monitor their progress.

I also loved that they learned so much. We used it in addition to our regular math but it was awesome in that they actually learned new skills and old skills in new ways. I can see that Kaytie, especially, gained a lot of math confidence from this program. She really blossomed under the method of instruction/ practice/ quiz. By the time she got to the quiz she really knew what the concept was and how to solve the problems.

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In their own words:

Kaytie: I like it better than any other math program that we have tried. I like that it has rewards. Sometimes I wish they could explain a little better in the lessons, because in Practice they don't do all the types of problems that I do in the Quiz which confuses me sometimes. I wish the voices were less computerized because that is annoying and distracting. I like the engage part, where I can chat with Mom and the other kids. 
It has taught me some important concepts that my regular math hasn't yet. I like how it is set up because the process is easy for me to understand and the practice is guided so I know what I'm doing. I like that the lessons are short so that I can do a whole lesson in just one day. I would not recommend it for people who want to use it as a complete curriculum but as a supplement it is great. 

Nate: It is really interesting. I actually learned something! More than I usually do when we use computer programs for math. I think the chat is interesting, I liked that part. I like how sometimes it gives you a quest to do. I like that it's interactive and that it gives you rewards to motivate you. I would recommend it for younger kids mostly.  I think if you start kids on it young they will like math a little bit even when they are older. It's fun. There was nothing that I didn't like about it.

Daniel: I liked it because it taught me more math than other sites. I liked that I could get awards from my points. 

Abbie: It's fun. I like the rewards. I like that we get to fly a hot air balloon at the end of the lesson.

Like the kids said, we have used several online math programs over the years and this one is definitely our favorite. It's easy to use, I have control, they can't just run amuck through the work but have to follow a purposeful path, they are learning and they are engaged. Plus there are some little extras thrown in there just for the fun factor.

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The only drawback was that, since this is an online program, there were occasional glitches where weird stuff happened. Usually it resolved quickly. Once, though, Daniel could not get a lesson to play no matter how hard he tried. I shot off an email to tech support and told him that he would have to skip GPA that day because I really didn't expect to hear back for awhile. Imagine my surprise when I got an email a couple hours later apologizing for the issue and informing me that it was all fixed. Needless to say I was very impressed with their customer service!

Unlike Kaytie, I think this could be a complete math program for your elementary kid. We won't be using it that way but we will definitely squeeze every last drop of our subscription out of GPALOVEMATH!!!

GPA Learn Review
Crew Disclaimer

Mar 17, 2015

Schoolhouse Review Crew: The Critical Thinking Co

The The Critical Thinking Co. offers products that help your child learn to analyze, evaluate, and think a little more deeply. They have a wide array of curriculum for history, math, science, language arts and reasoning skills. We were asked to review one of their history products World History Detective Book 1

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World History Detective is a thick paperback book intended for kids in 6th to 12th grade. It can be used as a full curriculum, just for review, or as a supplement to another history program. It begins with prehistory and Ancient civilizations, covers Medieval civilizations in Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East and finishes up with early American civilizations.  

It contains 78 lessons and each lesson follows the same basic pattern. First, there is a brief reading passage. Each paragraph is lettered and the sentences are numbered for easy reference in answering the following questions. There are 9 multiple choice questions that force the kids to dig deep into the meaning of the passage. The answers to the questions are not necessarily easy to find. The kids have to infer a lot of the answers from what is actually said. Most of the questions are followed by "Which sentence best supports the answer?"

Next in each lesson is an essay question. And finally there is a concept map. Maps, graphs, drawings and small black and white photographs are used as needed to illustrate and expand the lessons. Answers to all the questions and concept maps are in the back of the book. 

The book is consumable, but due to a generous copyright you are free to make up to 35 copies a year for your students. We used notebook paper and made a few copies. I'm pleased that all four kids will be able to use the book. However, if you do want to just have your child write directly in the book, the worksheets are perforated so you can pull them out and lay them flat for easier writing. 

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I used World History Detective with Kaytie and Nate. Kaytie is 12 and Nate is 11. Theoretically, they are in 6th and 5th grade, respectively, but in actuality, they do all the same work. We used this book as a supplement to the Ancient History studies we were already doing. We worked on it daily, breaking up the lessons into three parts. On the first day, they would read the passage and answer the 9 questions. The second day they wrote the essay. The third day, they filled out the concept map. This way, it only took them a few minutes each day to do the work. 

We used notebook paper to answer the questions and to write the essays, but I made them each a copy of the concept map because, as you can tell, it could be complicated for them to draw out.

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Kaytie's first concept map

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Nate's answer sheet

I really liked World History Detective. I don't think I would use it as complete program, however, it worked perfectly for us as a supplement to our other studies. The questions were phrased so that the kids couldn't just find a word for word quote and write down an answer. They had to think about what the reading assignment really said and even read between the lines a little. It required effort on their part to answer the questions and to point to the sentence where they found that answer. Sometimes they would get the correct answer but couldn't tell me which sentence supported their conclusion! So they would have to go back and think some more. As we worked through the lessons, however, this got easier for them to do.

This was not a "fun" program for either of my kids and Nate even dreaded it a little. This does not mean it was a bad product, though! I don't believe that kids have to thoroughly enjoy themselves in order to learn. Mental exercise should be a workout just as much as physical exercise. Hard work can be rewarding, but you have to suffer a little bit first. I appreciated that this was a challenge for my kids.

I liked that the book also included essay questions because this is a weakness we have. My kids need practice writing essays. And these questions were fairly easy for them to answer with a paragraph or two, but I could easily require longer, more detailed answers for an older student.

And finally, I liked the concept maps because it gave them one more method to interact with the lesson material. Kaytie especially enjoyed filling out the maps because by that time she was really comfortable with the information and it was mostly review for her.

The answers in the back made it easy for this to be an independent subject for us. The kids filled out their answers, I graded them, and then they corrected the wrong ones. There are no answers for the essay questions, of course, but at least I only had to work at checking 1/3 of the material!

The kids said:

Kaytie: I liked that it has 3 separate kinds of questions so that you really get to know the subject. It was a little bit challenging... at least, for me. It helped me think more in depth about what I read. 

Nate: Personally, I think it was boring. It was kind of hard to figure out the right sentence to choose. The concept map was easy, though. I think I would have liked it better if I were older.

The Critical Thinking Co has a lot of really great products to choose from. Not only did we enjoy World History Detective, but several years ago we reviewed Crypto Mind Benders which we are still enjoying.  

Critical Thinking Company Review

Crew Disclaimer

Mar 14, 2015

From Cub to Boy

Last week, Nate crossed over from Cub Scouts to Boy Scouts. This is a big step for a Scouting boy and therefor a big event for a Scouting family.

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My handsome little guy. I nearly cried when I tied on his neckerchief for the last time (he won't wear one in his Troop). But thankfully, the rest of the evening was such a whirlwind that I was able to keep my mind from dwelling on how quickly he is growing up and I didn't cry during the ceremony at all! He was thankful for this. :)

The centerpieces for each table were so cool! The word on the signpost comes from the Boy Scout Law and each table had a different word.

The program. 

Nate and his buddy checking out the airplanes on stage. The planes were brought by Dr. McCool.

Nate and another boy in his pack each earned the Supernova Award. They worked hard over the summer to earn it and were awarded it by Dr. Barry McCool, astronaut Willie McCool's father.

Nate and his friend went to the same Troop. Their new Scout Leader is the man behind them.

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Traditionally, Scouts cross a bridge to signify their Crossing Over, but we live in West Texas so our boys passed through a teepee. It was pretty cool.

Nate with all his awards and "swag". In addition to crossing over, he also earned his Arrow of Light.


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